Let’s not kid ourselves: The Nationals are the team to beat in the NL East. The Braves are worthy contenders, with few flaws. But as far as I can tell the Nationals have no weaknesses.
On offense, they’ve added Denard Span to bat lead-off and return talented backstop Wilson Ramos, who will compete with Kurt Suzuki — 25 RBI in 43 games w/ Washington — for playing time. Rochey, a lock for 25 HR and 90 RBI, is also back., Jayson Werth rebounded in 2012 and Ryan Zimmerman, who had a .945 OPS after the break, appears primed for a monster season.
Ian Desmond is coming off a monster year and may be the best SS in baseball. The line-up’s weakest link, 2B Danny Espinosa, hit 37 doubles, 17 HR and stole 20 bases.
And, of course, there’s Bryce Harper, who hit .330 with 7 HR and a 1.043 OPS in September.
The Braves line-up has the potential to be better, but not much.
As for the reserves, Washington wins in a landslide. Their bench features Ramos/Suzuki, Tyler Moore (10 HR in part-time duty), Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy. Ours: Reed Johnson, Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco and three guys (Janish/Pena, Laird, Constanza/Schafer) who offer the occasional single, if you’re lucky.
The Nats have the edge defensively, as well. Andrelton is easily the best fielder on either team, but the Nats are better at 3B, 2B and C while 1B is probably a wash. Both teams boast athletic outfields.
The Braves rotation is good, but Washington’s is better. If Medlen and Minor pitch like they did in the second half they can hang with Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, but that’s a tall order. Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren compare favorably to Huddy, Maholm and Teheran. Gonzalez may end up with a 50-game suspension, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Yes, the Braves have a superior bullpen, but with Soriano joining Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard the Nats are no slouch. Watch out for Christian Garcia, who was tough down the stretch and regularly hits triple digits on the radar gun. He’s also been mentioned as a candidate for the rotation if an opening arises. If pressed to name a flaw I’d point to their lack of reliable late-innings southpaw — Sean Burnett signed with the Angels, leaving only discarded Pirate starter Zach Duke.
The Braves may well be the second best team in the NL, but the Nats are clearly the best team in either league. I’d put their over/under at 98 wins.